Beyond Left and Right: Why Netanyahu Must Go

Israel’s prime minister seems to have lost touch with the ground rules of democracy and has become a danger to the state. He needs to be voted out on Tuesday, and Israel needs to heal.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
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A Likud poster in Tel Aviv. The slogan says, "Only Likud. Only Netanyahu."
A Likud poster in Tel Aviv. The slogan says, "Only Likud. Only Netanyahu."Credit: Reuters
Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

In the last two weeks, the election that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated in order to fortify his position has begun to look like his possible demise. This would be a good thing for Israel, no matter what your political orientation.

My plea for Netanyahu to leave Israeli politics has nothing to do with the ongoing disputes between Israel’s right and left. I always respected Israeli politicians who hold right-wing views but adhere to the basic values of liberal democracy – politicians like current President Reuven Rivlin, Moshe Arens or Dan Meridor. They have good arguments for their views, with which I respectfully disagree, but we have a common basis for dialogue.

Even Likud should be hoping that Netanyahu goes. Under his leadership, this once-respectable party has turned into a monstrous organization that thrives on hatred and has lost its best members, who, like Meridor, no longer feel they can vote for the party they grew up in.

Netanyahu is an entirely different brand of politician, the type that genuinely, deeply harms society and political culture. Take his latest, panicky statements about a worldwide conspiracy to “topple the government,” comments that place Netanyahu in the same category as Hosni Mubarak, Hugo Chávez and De Kirchner. Netanyahu seems to have lost touch with the ground rules of democracy: nobody has an inborn right to lead the country, and governments are not “toppled” in democracies but voted out of power.

But, as I argued more than a month ago, Netanyahu has been showing genuine signs of disturbed judgment for a while, no longer distinguishing between his own interests and Israel’s, and his fitness for office has become questionable.

Netanyahu, we must realize, is ultimately a one-trick pony – not because of his opportunism, but because he exhibits a Manichean worldview that doesn’t allow for clear thinking. In his world, there are forces of light and forces of darkness; he, and only he, sees the true dangers of the forces of darkness. And he, and only he, can save Israel from destruction and world Jewry from the next Holocaust. His call for Europe’s Jews to move to Israel after the Paris terror attacks in January was just one of many examples of how he uses every opportunity to increase fear – and his lack of judgment on how to effectively combat Islamist anti-Semitism.

Netanyahu’s paranoid and megalomaniac state of mind is certainly not unique: from Stalin and Ceausescu to Nixon and Chavez, it has been characteristic of many political leaders, and they wreaked terrible harm on their countries. So has Netanyahu. In the last six years of his rule, Israel has become more racist and filled with hatred – not just between Jews and Arabs, but between different Jewish groups as well. It is genuinely frightening to see how right-wing groups openly call for the death of leftists on social media sites, and how the rifts between Jews of different ethnicities and religious views have deepened.

I am in no way claiming that all this is Netanyahu’s doing. Israel is located in one of the world’s most difficult neighborhoods; the Middle East has been deteriorating terribly in the last few years, and the new dangers must be faced clearheadedly. But Netanyahu is the last person to be entrusted with such a task, as almost all the high-ranking security officials who have worked with him – like former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin – have warned, time and again. Israelis should listen to those who have spent their lives defending Israel: Netanyahu is a danger to Israel’s security, not its protector.

Israel has its share of social problems independently of Netanyahu, and the country needs a leader capable of calming fear and hatred. Under such circumstances, the country needs a leader who is calm, pragmatic and steers the country judiciously. Netanyahu has been doing the opposite: he speaks of Israel’s left as if it were a fifth column.

Furthermore, Netanyahu has isolated Israel to an unprecedented degree. He has alienated most governments of the Free World, and then explains to Israelis that the world hates Jews and Israel. Many Israelis, concerned with making ends meet, do not have the time or means to check the facts, and believe Netanyahu – even more so because Sheldon Adelson has provided Netanyahu with a personalized, freebie version of Pravda: the daily Israel Hayom, an intolerable situation in any democracy. The only analogous example was when Silvio Berlusconi was Italian prime minister while controlling a large share of that country’s media.

Israel must be protected, and it must heal. This is why Netanyahu must go. This is why all Israelis and friends of Israel, no matter what their religious or political orientation, should hope to wake up in a few days to hear that Netanyahu has suffered a defeat sufficient to make him quit – this time for good.

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